For the last few years, I've been quietly struggling with anxiety and depression. On the 23rd of January, a little after midnight, I experienced my first ever full-blown panic attack. It was one of the scariest moments of my entire life. I thought that I was going to die.
A few hours earlier, I was sat in my home office worried about the dull ache I was experiencing in my stomach going on for almost a month. I went to bed, like previous nights, hoping that it would go away.
After falling asleep for an hour or so, I woke up with sudden cramps and increasing dull pains in my stomach.
I was sweating as if I had a fever, with my heart pounding hard. I had pins and needles in both my hands and feet. My legs, in fact, felt so wobbly with the tremors that I couldn't even step out of bed without collapsing to the floor.
To top it all off, I felt dizzy, confused, and overwhelmed by fear. I was having a panic attack.
The attack lasted no more than 10 minutes or so. I was so worried and convinced that I was having a heart attack that my wife ended up calling the emergency services.
Half an hour later, the ambulance pulled up outside our house and I was off to the hospital to spend the rest of the night, my mind still racing, fearing for the worst.
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.Amit Ray
The small hours of the morning flew by quite quickly in the hospital. By which then, I was completely calm again but unable to sleep due to the adrenalin rush in my body and the noise in the hospital.
I was having a lot of tests done. You name it I had done. They took all the samples they needed, blood too. I had several ECG's, and a full physical assessment. They found nothing. All the results that came back were clear.
I was then discharged from the hospital around 5am the following day. so, I made an appointment to see my doctor on the same day.
After explaining to my doctor what had happened, he gave me a further health check. My doctor confirmed that I had experienced a panic or anxiety attack. Most likely brought on by being overly anxious about the dull pains in my stomach.
As it turned out in fact, the dull ached in my stomach was a small ulcer, which I received medication for. I was then sent home to deal with the rest.
It wasn't over.
After taking several days off to rest, I tried to get back to my normal life. I had several projects that I was working on that had deadlines. I also needed to complete a few blog posts.
I had to continue running my business and my blog, right?
Well, except, I couldn't. I was struggling to cope with my anxiety and depression during the day which affected both my motivation and concentration. It was so bad.
I've always been a worrier about my health, and I've always stressed about every other thing in my life.
You see, I'm a bit of a hypochondria. Often turning to Dr Google to self-diagnose every symptom that I got.
Additionally, I've always worried about the safety of my family. I would even create traumatic scenarios in my head to see how I would cope with them should they ever happen. I did this quite a few times.
Throw in the stress of being an entrepreneur and blogger, and you have the perfect recipe for a full-blown panic attack. I knew if I didn't get on top of this, I could end up with a panic or anxiety disorder.
I know what your'e thinking -
"Fabrizio, you just need to get a grip and deal with it."
And that's the exact kind of bad advice I have tried to avoid 🙂
I was never aware that I had an anxiety issue before my panic attack. I just thought I had good days and bad days.
Most mornings, I would wake up in a positive mood. But when it came to my work life, or generally doing uncomfortable things, or even being social, I struggled a little bit.
I could start working on something exciting, maybe writing a blog post or working on a website project. But my focus and interest would often be short-lived, lasting a few hours at most.
Anxiety can be counter-productive, for my case at least. When I'm anxious, I struggle to stay motivated and to be productive throughout the day. I can work for an hour or two before I feel overwhelmed and have to throw in the towel.
I'm not like this every day, but there are days in my working week where I can experience anxiety issues like this.
When it came to social engagements or doing things with my family and friends, I would put them off. If I had to go somewhere, I felt uncomfortable being around other people.
Sometimes I would cross the road if I saw someone coming towards me, just to get the uncomfortable feeling out of me. They call that social anxiety I think.
On a recent family camping holiday, my wife noticed how distressed I got when we went into a public place or just talking to people. Sometimes I would hardly smile or be seen enjoying the time we had. None of this was good for me and I knew something had to be done.
When you have a small family, and you're working from home building a business for your bread and butter, and worrying about everything else in between, well, things can get stressful.
Achieving the work, life balance I wanted was never easy.
During the build-up to my first panic attack, it would be fair for me to say that I was struggling with a lot of stress and being overly anxious.
Here are some things I was was having to deal with -
Boom… Full-blown panic attack!
The first week following my panic attack, I was all over the place.
During the day I was a nervous wreck. I was experiencing anxiety and tremors like I've never experienced before. That hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, the constant heart palpitations, that tingly feeling in my hands and feet, the fear. It was awful.
And, as I'm writing this now, although I'm managing my anxiety and stress levels a lot better, I'm nowhere near feeling recovered. I realized that recovery was going to be a marathon and not a stroll in the park.
In the last few weeks, for a short time, I lost complete interest in everything that I used to love doing. I was depressed and in the darkest place I'd ever been in.
Around 4 to 10% of people in the UK will experience depression in their lifetime.Source
Still, each day I pushed myself to keep working. A little each day. I had a business to run after all, and blogging helped to take my mind off some issues.
Being an entrepreneur struggling with anxiety issues sucks, whether it's work-related or personal. But, it's something I've now come to accept and I'm no longer ashamed to talk about it.
Trying to be the best you can be as a solopreneur, blogger, or someone who just works from home can also take its toll. As online business owners, we put ourselves under a lot of stress.
We stress about the growth of our business. We stress about making enough sales, having and making enough money. We stress about getting enough traffic to our websites or blogs. We stress about the expenses. Too much stress and worry can have a significant negative impact on our mental health.
Everyone is different and if you're going through a similar situation, there's only so much advice one can give. What might work for me, might not work for you?
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, councillor or therapist. I'm a regular guy who works from home as a solopreneur, blogger, and web designer. I'm also someone who's suffered from recent panic attacks, and social/health anxiety, and depression for a number of years.
With that out of the way, here's what I've been doing to create coping mechanisms for myself.
As a web designer, I have to stay creative and innovative. For me, the best way I can do this is to paint and get involved with arts and crafts.
Remember, my other passion is in art and I have a micro-business in the arts industry too. So, for me, cracking out a blank canvas and painting helps me to break through my anxiety.
Painting also helps me to focus on my motor skills. Keeping my hands still from the tremors experienced during my bouts of anxiety is challenging but useful.
I've always mediated even before I began struggling with anxiety and depression.
For me, meditation helps to clear my mind. For about ten minutes or so I sit down on a cushion and focus on nothing but my breathing.
Sometimes I'll pick a favorite place and focus on imagining that I'm actually there. By the way, for me, that would be strolling through the streets of Teror on the island of Gran Canaria. A favorite holiday destination, and I'll be back there with the family in around five weeks or so 🙂
Everyone has their own methods of meditation, for me, this is what works best.
If you don't like meditating or find it hard to focus your mind, try simple breathing exercises for a few minutes as an alternative.
Again, I've always been an active person. Even way before I started having panic attacks and anxiety issues.
I'm sure you've heard that exercise is the best way to stimulate endorphins and anti-anxiety chemicals in your brain, right? Well, it works wonders.
For me, running or hitting the Gym in the evenings, when my mental state is at it's worst, works best. Getting outdoors and tuning into my favorite self-help podcast and running a few KM really works.
Sometimes it can be hard to read when you're stressed, restless, or feeling anxious. But, reading can break the path of anxiety, helping you to focus on something else entirely.
This works for me sometimes but not always. If I find myself thinking or worrying too much about having a panic attack, I read to take my mind off things.
The kind of books that I like to read, by the way, are self-help, motivational, books for entrepreneurs. I try not to read too many fictional books as I don't believe this helps to ease my anxiety. That might not be the case for you, though.
I used to despise Yoga and think it was a waste of time and energy. Not anymore.
Yoga is calming. The stretching and breathing exercises involved with Yoga is beneficial. Certain poses are more impactful than others for anxiety too. So, if you've never tried doing Yoga before and you struggle with anxiety, I recommend it.
You don't have to be good at it either. There are plenty of tutorials you can follow on YouTube.
Once again, we're all different and unique as individuals. We all have different things going on in our busy lives that can impact our mental health, both positively and negatively.
Being a work from home dad, blogger, web designer, and solopreneur certainly has its perks. But, we're just as likely to suffer from stress, social anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and all the rest of it as anyone else.
I think working from home can contribute the most to social anxiety, especially if your face-to-face human interaction is minimal.
I can go for months without speaking to a person, face-to-face, in my business as most of the interaction I do is online. I don't think this is healthy.
And again, I'm not a doctor or counselor, but I can tell you that the key to tackling your mental health issues and anxiety disorder is to find the root cause of it.
For me, it's always been about a range of things. Dealing with my past, dealing with the safety of my family and kids, and dealing with my hypochondria.
I know this now, and what I'm doing to tackle those issues is to to do all of the things I've outlined above as well as talking about it.
Yes, talking really helps and no one, whether they're an entrepreneur or not, should have to suffer in silence.
If you're a solopreneur, blogger, entrepreneur, work from home mum or dad, suffering from anxiety or depression. Stop and seek help immediately, and a solution. The more you struggle, the more this will impact your life and your business. You and I are not alone.
Did you know that 40 million folks in the US suffer from anxiety disorder? Again, we're not alone.Source
There are several books that I recommend checking out. Here's my personal reading list from Amazon -